I’ve had an idea for a twist on the story of Midas for a couple years now. This isn’t that. But, it does kind of branch off that idea. This is also the longest story I’ve written this month.
Calla made her way down to the fountain in the middle of her father’s yard. He was in another of his moods, and it was always best to make herself scarce in these moments. Not that he’d ever raised his hand to her, but she’d be just another target for his angry words.
Dario Midas was already a wealthy man, so she didn’t understand why all he seemed to care about was making even more money. Sometimes she just wanted him to see she was right here, to know she mattered more than any business deal or wealth he could attain. Other times she just wanted to get away. To find someone who wanted her and not just her father’s wealth.
She shook her head and sat on the edge of the fountain. All of that was likely wishful thinking. And yet she couldn’t stop it. Everyone said he had the golden touch when it came to business. But, he drove every woman in his life away. And he failed to see her, the only one who had remained through it all. Even though maybe she’d go as well, if she just had the means. But, she couldn’t touch any of her money yet, so she was still stuck.
With a sigh, she pushed back up from the fountain. She should go back in and check that he hadn’t done too much damage this time. Hopefully he’d calmed by now anyway. But, when she stepped inside, the tension was still thick. All of the house employees averted their eyes, and she wanted to turn back around and head out of the house. But, that wasn’t the way to get her father to actually see her. So, she headed back toward his office, even if it was the last place she wanted to be.
She knocked on the door but pushed it open without waiting for a response. Her father sat at his desk, his hands clasped at the back of his head, staring down at the top of the desk. She approached slowly, hoping whatever had upset him had passed now. She saw the shattered glass on the other side of the room, liquid still dripping down the wall.
“Father, are you all right?”
“Go away, Calla.”
I would if you’d release my trust. She didn’t like the thought that went through her head. She was all he had left, and she should want to be here with him. And whose fault is it he has no one else? Certainly not mine.
Another ugly thought that seemed to go through her head at least once a day. She shoved it back down and went to clean up the mess he’d made. “That’s not for you to do.” There was a distinct snarl in his voice.
“I can handle it, Father. Cook should just about have dinner ready. I’ll meet you in the dining room.”
He sniffed, but his chair creaked as he stood and his footsteps headed toward the doorway. There was a slight hesitation, then the door closed behind him. Her eyes shouldn’t be burning. She’d brought his on herself. But, the maids didn’t deserve to deal with the effects of her father’s temper. Still, it was her fault if that’s all he saw her as.
Calla stepped out of the house and glanced across the courtyard right outside their door. She hadn’t seen her father since the scene in his office earlier that week. He hadn’t been in the dining room for dinner that night, but she’d heard he’d had the cook have someone take his dinner to his room. So, apparently he was sulking. What reason did he have to sulk? He wasn’t the one cleaning up after her temper tantrums.
She stepped down from the porch and headed across the courtyard to the stables. Her father didn’t keep a lot of his horses here. Not this time of year anyway. He just had them, and this big of a stable for the prestige. But, there was one horse that was always here. Ariadne. The mare had been hers from the time she was born. Calla had trained her, taken care of her every day. When she stepped into the stable, someone was already in front of her mare’s stall.
“Flip, I didn’t expect to see you here this morning.”
He’d been here about as long as Ariadne, had come with his father, Phillip. He’d worked under his father as a stable boy until a few months ago, when the older man had retired. Now, Flip was in charge of the stables. There wasn’t as much for him to do with the other horses out on the racing circuits, but she figured he’d be checking on them by now. Not still here.
They’d shared one kiss the first summer he’d been here. But, it almost seemed like he’d avoided her since then. He wasn’t rude about it, but they were hardly ever alone. Maybe she was reading more into it than what was there, though. He didn’t say anything to her now, just stepped back so she could approach the stall. That hurt, but she’d never admit it. When he’d first arrived, she thought they could be friends. She’d never really had one before. Not at the private school her father had sent her to, not among anyone her father had hired for this place. But, it had looked promising with Flip. Until that kiss had apparently ruined it all.
“Did you feed her this morning?” she asked instead of asking the real question she wanted the answer to. What had she done so wrong to ruin them?
“Earlier. She’s good if you’re planning to take her out.”
Then, he was heading back down the aisle, away from her. Calla let herself into the stall, forcing her thoughts away from Flip. She brushed the horse before finding her tack and saddling her up. Then, she led her outside and climbed into the saddle. She could take her out for an easy ride on the trails, but apparently easy wasn’t what she was after. Instead, she headed to the arena that was set up with jumps. And right in view of her father’s office. There were times she’d seen him watching from the window when she took Ariadne to practice. She didn’t let herself look today.
Both her and the mare knew this course perfectly. And it felt like they flew over each of the jumps. She went over it three times until Ariadne just started to feel like she was working. She trotted around the perimeter then slid down from the saddle, grabbing the reins and leading her out of the arena. She stopped when she saw her father standing in front of the house. He wasn’t alone, though, and he wasn’t looking her way. Her stomach cramped as she continued walking toward the stable. He hadn’t been watching her anyway. He hadn’t seen how perfectly she’d taken Ariadne over the jumps. They hadn’t brought home any ribbons or trophies in over a year, they’d both burnt out on the jumping circuit, so hadn’t entered any shows, so none of it mattered to her father.
“You two looked perfect out there.”
She jumped a little at Flip’s voice as she walked Ariadne around the yard to cool her off. “I didn’t realize you were watching.” At least someone had seen them and appreciated it.
She thought she caught him murmuring something as he turned away again, but she’d probably just imagined it. Then, he turned to look over his shoulder. “Your father called down. He wants you up at the house. You’ve got someone calling on you.”
Calling on me? What did that even mean? She’d seen the sports car sitting in front of the house, and the man who it probably belonged to. But, she’d assumed it was another of her father’s business associates. What did he have to do with her?
It didn’t matter. She still had to take care of Ariadne before she could go up to the house. But, when she led Ariadne into the stable, Flip was waiting at her stall. Their hands brushed as he took the reins from her. Her gaze shot to his, and she was sure his cheeks flushed before h turned away. “I’ll take care of her. You don’t want to keep prince charming waiting.
Prince Charming? Where did he get this stuff? “I don’t even know who he is.”
But, I released Ariadne to his hands. I knew he’d take just as much care with her as I would. I went up to the house the back way. Father would not appreciate me greeting his guest all sweaty and smelling like the stable. I’d heard that lecture more than enough times to know just how he felt about it. So, I’d get a shower before I went to find them.
“It’s about time.”
Her father didn’t even turn to look at her. Didn’t take the time to see what she’d done with her hair or that she’d put a dress on. All he knew was that she’d kept him, and whoever his guest was, waiting. “Sorry, Father,” she said. “I didn’t know to expect company.”
Her father didn’t respond to that or even look at her. “You’re almost twenty-one,” he said. “It’s time you took on the duties of this household instead of wasting your time playing with that horse.”
Her throat burned, but she held back the tears. She wouldn’t cry, not in front of her father and certainly not in front of the man sitting across the parlor. What duties didn’t she already do? But, that wouldn’t be the right question to ask. He’d likely start listing them. Not that it was ever something he’d brought up before. And she could feel the other man’s eyes on her. She wouldn’t embarrass herself or her father in front of him. “I understand, Father.” Even though she didn’t. Not at all.
“Good. Your birthday is in two weeks. We’ll be having a party here. The housekeeper and butler have the plans and guest list. Make sure they don’t screw anything up.”
She didn’t say anything. What was she supposed to say? He expected her to oversee her own party. A party she hadn’t even asked for. And likely jut to prove a point. Or humiliate her when it all went wrong. Did he think she’d done that to him the other night? Is that what this was about?
She kept her hands at her sides but could feel them trembling. She couldn’t believe he was doing this. What had she ever done to deserve him to treat her this way?
He didn’t wait for her answer anyway. “This is James Adair. He’ll be a special guest atyour party. I expect you to show him around until then and treat him with the utmost respect.”
This was all hard to swallow, but she nodded. “Yes, Father.” This wouldn’t give her any time to spend at the stables with Ariadne. Which very well may be his point. He made it even clearer when he stopped her at the door to the parlor.
“And after the party, you’ll be engaged or he’ll be buying your horse.”
No! She’d almost thought she’d shouted the word, but neither man reacted. So, they had her whole future planned out for her. She got married and got to keep Ariadne, or she’d lose everything. And without a penny to her name until he released her trust fund, there wasn’t anything she could really do.
“I understand, Father.” She only wished she didn’t.
Calla stepped into the ballroom and looked around. She’d seen the transformation for herself, but it still looked different now. She looked different too. If only she could feel different along with it. Then, maybe this wouldn’t feel like the night would be such a disaster. But, she stepped forward anyway. She didn’t see what other choice she had. If she didn’t go along with her father’s plans, she had a feeling not only would he sell Calla’s horse, but she’d be gone as well.
James stood next to her father, and she knew she was expected to make her way over to them. That wasn’t where she wanted to be, though. She didn’t want to be here at all. But, since she had to be, she’d rather be mingling with the guests, having fun, talking to Flip as he stood at one of the doors, dressed as an old-fashioned footman. Her father thought he was clever there, making this look like an old-time ball.
She knew if she did any of that, though, he’d make her regret it. He’d take away everything she wanted, and there wasn’t anything she could do to get it back. She had to follow his plan, or everything would be lost.
Still, it took some time to reach them with everyone stopping her to greet her and wish her a happy birthday. She plastered a smile on her face and could only wish she looked the way she felt. James took her hand and kissed the back of it. “You’re particularly lovely tonight, Miss Midas. Though, I have not been disappointed in the view for the last weeks.”
She could have sworn she heard a snort from behind them, where Flip stood on duty. But, when she glanced his direction, his face still looked impassive. Maybe she’d only hoped he heard the insincerity in his words. And even the slightly judgmental tone under them. Since the first day he’d been here, she hadn’t dressed up. Not until tonight. She’d gone with him to see whatever he wanted and dined with him at the house every night. But, she hadn’t put any more effort into it. And he hadn’t put in any effort to get to know her. Why did he need to, after all, when her father had basically promised her to him already.
“Now that you’re finally here,” her father said, “we can start this party. You two will lead the first dance.”
My stomach churned. I liked to dance, but not with everyone staring at me. “Father, I don’t think-”
He broke off my words with one sharp motion of his hand. “I do not care. This is what is expected of you. The band is ready to start, so you better be as well.”
Now, she almost snorted. The people he’d hired weren’t quite what she’d call a band. More like a small orchestra. But, she didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to rile him up. Not tonight. But, she barely listened to the words he said about celebrating her twenty-first birthday. What a great occasion it was. Whatever other lies came from his mouth. Then, the music started, and James led her out onto the dance floor. She couldn’t quite help glancing back. nd saw the pensive look pass over Flip’s face. He caught her looking, though, and it was gone once again.
She followed the steps of the dance, but her heart wasn’t in it. She didn’t like the feel of James’ hands at her back. And when the song was over, an he led her back toward her father, he said, “It’s okay if you cant dance. I can always teach you. nd you’re pretty enough to look at.”
Pretty to look at. Like she was some kind of golden statue. That was exactly what her father wanted to make her into. It didn’t matter at all what she wanted. She’d already known that, but the whole of it finally struck her, and she couldn’t pull in a full breath. “Excuse me,” she said, pulling away. “I need some air.”
But, James’ grip only tightened on her hand. “You’re not going to embarrass me or your father by running out of here. This is your celebration, which means you have a responsibility to all these people. So, you’re staying right here with me. I’d never let my wife get away with behavior like this. You might as well learn that now.”
Tears burned her eyes as his fingers dug into her hand. She caught Flip watching them, and thought he looked like he was going to come forward. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice wavering.
His hand relaxed, and Flip did, too. James pulled her out onto the floor for more dances, but she couldn’t concentrate on the steps. And she ended up tripping over her own feet. Only James’ grip on her arm kept her from falling. “Are you trying to humiliate me?” he hissed, pulling her back up, wrenching her shoulder in the process. “Not being a good dancer is one thing. Being completely inept is another.”
She couldn’t quite blink back the tears this time, of pain from her shoulder or the way his words lanced right through her. When he released her this time, she didn’t make excuses, just lifted her skirts and ran for the doors. Flip didn’t say anything, just pushed the door open for her.
She could hear angry voices behind her, but she just kept running. It didn’t m””atter. Not ay of it. She jut had to get out and deal with the consequences later. She knew one thing,though. She couldn’t marry James. No matter what it cost her.
No one had come after her. She’d lost one of her shoes, ripped her dress, then curled up in the corner of Ariadne’s stall and fallen asleep. Not on person had cared enough to follow her and see if she was all right.
Except she’d woken up with a blanket covering her.
She didn’t know who had covered her up. Certainly not her father. And definitely not James. She’d embarrassed him, after all. Something he said he’d never put up with. Which meant…
She pushed to her feet and found Ariadne standing over her. She wrapped her arms around her neck. “I’m sorry, girl. I was going to do it to keep you, but I can’t. I just can’t. It would be like still living with Father. He’d want me to be a statue, too. And I can’t live like that.”
“I would never let you.”
She dropped her arms from around the horse’s neck and spun around. Ariadne snorted then went back to munching on hay. Flip stood in the doorway, one hand stuffed in the pocket of his jeans. He’d looked good dressed up the night before, but she had to admit he looked even better now. “What are you doing here?” she asked him.
“I wanted to see if you were okay.”
He opened the stall door and slipped inside. And then she noticed the bruising around his eye and along his jaw. “What happened, Flip?”
“Not nearly as much as I’d like,” he mumbled. “Since that…man is still breathing.” He ran a hand lightly over her shoulder. “I wanted to see him bleed just for making you cry. But, he hurt you, too.”
That confused her. “You don’t even like me, Flip. Ever since that first summer, you will barely look at me.”
“That’s because your father threatened my dad’s job when he caught us kissing. I couldn’t risk that. And I figured it would carry over to mine now. And I didn’t want anything to send me away from you.”
She swallowed hard but didn’t know what to say to that. Could she believe it? She thought back over the last few years, how he was always around, always seemed to be watching her. How he had acted the night before. Maybe she could.
“If he threatened your job for a simple kiss, you can’t think-”
He held up the shoe he’d been holding in his other hand. “You dropped something last night.” He held it out to her, but she just took off the other one and tossed both of them out into the aisle. Flip took her hand and they headed out of the stall. “I heard everything he said to you. And I’ve heard everything you’ve said to your horse the last couple weeks. I wish you never would have excepted this deal, Calla.”
“I didn’t see another choice. He held my love for Ariadne hostage. He’s always used my love against me.”
He brought her hand to his mouth, the same way James had the night before. But, this sent a completely different feeling swirling through her. “Not this time. I told you, I heard everything. And when I kept Adair from following you, he took a swing at me. In exchange for not pressing charges, your father signed ownership of Ariadne over to you. And he signed the papers releasing your trust fund. There’s nothing tying you here if you don’t want there to be.”
“You did all that?”
He shook his head. “You did. You could have stayed there, let him treat you the way he and your father think you deserve. You might think running from it was cowardly, but it showed me you were the same girl I first fell for. The one that won’t let herself be treated that way. You convinced your dad to let you jump Ariadne, even though he thought it was beneath you. And you didn’t stand there and let him beat you down.” He took both her hands and faced her now. “You’re strong, Calla. You can do whatever you set your mind to.”
She wasn’t so sure, but the fact he believed it had something swelling in her chest. “I don’t know what to do now, though. Where would I go?”
“You tell me,” Flip said. “I can have the trailer hooked up and Ariadne loaded in no time. Point somewhere on a map, and we’ll go there. Or tell me you want to stay, and I’ll get back to work. We can go to dinner tonight. Either way, I won’t leave you unless you ask me to.”
She glanced through the stable door, back up toward the house. She gave a shiver at the thought of going back up there, but Flip’s hands were still warm in hers. “Let’s go,” she said suddenly. “I’ll pack my things while you get her. We can decide where later.”
He kissed her once before letting her go. Her father might have the golden touch, but it was a cold comfort when you didn’t have love. She’d always take the warmth of love over anything else. And now it looked like she’d finally have it. So, she wouldn’t look back.